She was impossible to console. Larry tried to reassure her that the stove was not on when they left the house. But his wife refused his reassurance. She accused him of lying and then turning on the stove before they left so the house would burn down by the time they returned. Larry tried to use logic by asking how he would benefit from losing all of his possessions, not to mention hers. “It’s your way of getting rid of me,” his wife screamed in the car. With nothing working, Larry turned the car around and drove home adding an additional hour onto their trip. When the garage door opened, she darted out of the car and raced inside screaming, ‘”I’m going to get there before you have a chance to mess it up.”
Larry waited patiently in the car. This was not the first time she did this. Nearly every trip required a 30-minute check of the doors, windows, and outside premises along with the security system being checked and rechecked all while she demanded that he wait in the car so he couldn’t undo her work. Yet despite all of this, more than half of their departures resulted in having to return so she could repeat the process again.
It was not just the house that sparked her paranoia. When the police knocked on their door to inquire about a neighborhood watch report, she insisted that the police officer wanted to rape her. Never mind that there was a female and male officer who never asked to enter the house, she was convinced that the only reason they were there was to stalk her so she could be raped at a later time.
She refused to let Larry manage the money because he would steal it from her. She insisted on having all of his passwords so he “couldn’t hide anything” from her but won’t allow him to have any of hers. She won’t allow him to open the mail, the door if the doorbell rang, or answer his phone without her listening on speakerphone. Anytime Larry would do something for himself, she would berate him, call him names, throw things, and guilt-trip him. Larry was a prisoner in his own home and only his wife had the key.
Frustrated, depressed, and lonely, Larry went to counseling. It wasn’t too long before he realized that he was dealing with a paranoid narcissist. No amount of reassurance would work, her paranoia was too strong. But she wasn’t always this way. In the beginning, she was charming, beautiful, clever, and innocent. Now she became harmful, hurtful, and even dangerous. Most narcissists utilize verbal abusive tactics to get what they want in fits of rage, some do long-term mental and emotional abuse, and still, fewer escalate to paranoid or delusional acts. How does this happen?
Delusional Beliefs. One of the magic ingredients is a delusion. According to Wikipedia, “A delusion is a belief that is held with strong conviction despite superior evidence to the contrary. As a pathology, it is distinct from a belief based on false or incomplete information, confabulation, dogma, illusion, or other effects of perception.” To meet the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for a delusional disorder, the delusion must last for at least one month, not be related to schizophrenia, have no otherwise bizarre behavior, and not be related to substance use.
For Larry’s wife, she believed for several years now that Larry was going to abandon her because she was not as beautiful as she once appeared. Larry never communicated any such idea, she believed it. By controlling Larry’s behavior, she believes that he won’t have the self-esteem to leave her. Her fear of abandonment is intense and extreme and no evidence to the contrary has been able to dissuade her from this belief.
Delusional Thinking. Having a delusional belief in and of itself is not problematic. However, when that belief is then normalized within the person’s thinking and communicated to others, it can be. Larry’s wife believing that he might abandon her is not dangerous. However, when she tries to convince others that her perception is accurate and everyone else’s perception is false then it becomes a problem. The more people she can get to agree with her delusional belief, the more real it becomes.
Larry’s wife did this in several ways. First, she used flattery (told him he was great with the kids), twisted religious prophecy (claimed to be able to predict the future), deception (claimed to have text messages from their kids disparaging her), and forced teaming (making him choose between their kids and her) to make her point. She texted multiple people with different things in order to gain more support for her delusional thinking.
Delusional Threats. After failing to gain adequate affirmation for delusional thinking, some narcissists escalate to threatening comments. The lack of affirmation is the key. Narcissists need constant and consistent supply attention in order to maintain their self-imposed superior status. Any decline in this can cause them to go into a rage. Threats are an abusive tactic designed to intimidate others and prove their superiority.
When Larry’s wife’s efforts failed, she resorted to mild threats that turned more severe. She began with name-calling (called him a bully) and intimidation (said there was nothing that scared her). Since she failed to get a rise out of anyone, she advanced to veiled threats (“I have been waiting for this day), reminders of her abilities (“I can get away with anything”), and finally more direct (“You can be replaced.”).
Violent Acts. Unfortunately, some narcissists will take their delusion beliefs and thinking to the final level of acting out their threats. Most think of this type of act as predominately male, however, females are equally capable. This tends to occur sometime around the mid-life crisis point, after a significant loss such as a career or family, and/or around a life defacing moments such as a criminal charge or conviction. They usually test the waters first by stalking their prey to ensure victory and recognition. These stories litter the media as typically no one suspects that they would be capable of violent acts.
In the past, some of Larry’s wife’s delusional threats have resulted in dangerous acts to others. She frequently reminds him and his family that she is watching every move. And while he personally has not experienced violence, her previously harmful behavior is a strong indicator of future action. Anyone who has experienced a delusional escalation to the level of threatening remarks should reach out for help, be cautious, and get away immediately.
The purpose of this article is to help others involved in a relationship with a paranoid narcissist to be aware of how delusional beliefs can lead to violent acts. As the saying goes, “better safe than sorry.”